Jinja Shinpō continues to report the impact of COVID-19 on the Shinto world. The latest issue reports that Jingū had closed down all kagura (sacred dance — personal prayers to the kami at Jingū), and the opportunity to pay one’s respects within the outermost fences. Other jinja were holding festivals with fewer people, or with people sitting outside rather than in the prayer hall. One priest wrote an article about the importance of purification in this time (wash your hands!).
However, the article I want to write about concerned Amabië.
Amabië is a yōkai (a general term for weird supernatural creatures) who first appeared in southwestern Kyushu (modern Kumamoto prefecture) in the mid 1840s. It looks like a fish with long hair and a beak, and when it first appeared, it said that there would be six years of good harvests, but that if there was an epidemic, the people who saw it should draw a picture of it, and show it to people to protect them from the illness. In 1847, an image of Amabië was printed and distributed.
In recent weeks, it has gone viral, as you might say, in Japan. The government has adopted it as an “image character” for one of its campaigns to raise awareness among young people, and a number of jinja have also incorporated it into their activities. Hirota Jinja (in Nishinomiya City, near Osaka) had one of their miko draw an Amabië image, and they are now distributing it to people who visit the jinja to pray for the end of the pandemic. They distributed 1300 of them in a couple of weeks.
Sakurayama Hachimangū, in Takayama in Gifu prefecture (central Japan), prepared an Amabië paper amulet in late March. As well as a picture of Amabië, this paper carries the red seals of the main jinja, of Ōmononushi (also known as Ōkuninushi) and Sukunabikona, who are enshrined in one of the subsidiary jinja and historically associated with healing, and of Hōsōgami, the smallpox kami I have mentioned earlier. It was originally prepared for the people attending an important annual matsuri (the Kinensai), because a lot of the normal features of the matsuri, such as the naorai (communal meal), had been cancelled. There were a few left over, so they distributed them at the jinja, and by April 16th they had distributed about 900. (I assume they reprinted…)
Isahaya Jinja, in Isahaya, in Nagasaki prefecture (Kyushu), also decided to do something, especially since the yōkai was fairly local. They designed a papercraft colouring image of Amabië, and you can download the PDF version from their website free of charge. The instructions are all in Japanese, but if you look at the examples on the site, you can probably figure out how to do it. The two pages of the PDF are supposed to be the front and back of one sheet, but they recommend printing it out on two sheets and sticking them together, as double-sided printing might not line up properly. As well as colouring it in, there is a space to write your name inside Amabië (what will be the inside when you fold it over), and you are asked to “blow life into it” when you have finished. The jinja encourages people to put photographs on SNS, and several people have.
Jinja’s page: https://isahaya-jinja.jp/amabie_nurie_print_a4/
Direct link to PDF: https://isahaya-jinja.jp/amabie_nurie_print_a4/amabie_nurie_print_A4【公開用PDF】ⓒ諫早神社_compressed.pdf
On Twitter (some other Amabië mixed in): https://twitter.com/search?q=%23わたしのアマビエ
One interesting question that arises is “Is Amabië a kami?”. Obviously, it is not one of the standard kami, but it does seem to meet most of the standard criteria. Not an easy question to answer.